Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Boron Boosts T4 to T3 Conversion: Old School Testbooster, Future Fat Loss Adjuvant? Or Just Toxic Waste?

Let's be honest does this stuff look as if it was supposed to be eaten? No, well other minerals don't either, so what's the verdict: Test booster? No! Thyroid booster or toxic waste? Read and learn more...
Those of you who have been around for a while will remember the whole hoopla surrounding the purported, but never fully established let alone real-world significant testosterone boosting effect of this chemical agent which happens to the fifth element (meaning it has only 5 protons and its thus one of the first in the list of the elements ordered b proton numbers) in the periodic table. Since boron is produced entirely by cosmic ray spallation it is pretty rare and,... I could go on with more details, but I guess that should suffice to evoke the notion that we are dealing with some powerful, quasi superhuman stuff, right? So what the hell, why wouldn't it turn you into Superman or Superwoman ;-) I guess the same thought occurred to the thousands of customers who bought  and used respective products back in the day without noticing any of the promised results in the testosterone, strength and mass department they were looking for.

How come? I mean why did it not work. Let me think: Ok, Superman is strong, but boron he is without having to resort to boron. In fact, the next best thing to boron would be Kryptonite and that has the opposite effect. Ah, complicated... Maybe we have just been looking for the wrong results? I mean, according to more recent papers and the latest paper by scientists from the Ismail Kucukkurt at the Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the Afyon Kocatepe University in Afyonkarahisar, Turkey (Kucukkurt. 2013), it would have been more prudent to take a closer look at (a) bone strength (e.g. Hakki. 2012) and (b) body fat percentage, or at least basal metabolic rate than muscle mass and strength after supplementing with boron... so let's stop kidding around and take a look at the latest scientific evidence.

So did we actually just look for results in the wrong place?

If you do have thyroid problems, you may be interested in reading my previous post about a study on what you'd call "dietary thyroid treatment" hypothyroid children (read more)
For their experiment, Ismael Kucukkurt and his colleagues had bought 30 male Sprague-Dawley rats, divided them into three groups and fed them diets containing either
  • control diet: the standard amount of boron, 6.4mg/kg
  • boric acid diet: std. diet + 100mg boron /kg of the diet, or
  • borax diet: std. diet + 100mg borax /kg of the diet
Borax is sodium borate a mineral salt of boron which is by the way a non-FDA approved (high amounts are thought to be hepatoxic) food additive (E285) that's used to either as a preservant or a cooking agents that improves the texture of the food.

In previous studies boron supplementation had been found to exert negative effects on the T3 level of pigs, but in view of the scarce evidence, Kucukkurt et al. had decided to repeat the experiment in order to
 "investigate the effects of different B compounds, boric acid and borax diet supplementation on hormonal status (lep-tin, insulin, T3, and T4) and some biochemical factors (carnitine, nonesterified fatty acids (NEFAs), betahy-droxybutyric acid (BHBA), and glucose) in rats" (Kucukkurt. 2013)
What the researchers found was quite the opposite of what you would have expected based on the previous studies by Armstrong et al. (2001) and confirmed previous results by Yazici et al. (2008), who had found a statistically significant normalization (level went back up) of the leptin levels of previously ovariectomized and acutely trained (swimming to exhaustion) rats.
Figure 1: Effects of 4 weeks on chow with additional 100mg/kg of boric acid or borax on serum levels of leptin, insulin, T3, T4, carnitine, NEFA, betahydroxybutyric acid (BHBA) and glucose (Kucukkurt. 2013)
It's not difficult to judge by looking at figure 1 that the effects were overall highly beneficial - at least in view of the current diabetes, but also low thyroid epidemic we are facing. A radical increase in insulin sensitivity and glucose management in the borax group despite the fact that the control group was (a) boron sufficient* and (b) neither obese nor fed on a high fat diet are certainly impressive. Coupled with the increase in T3 production, this could come handy to anyone regardless of whether it's your obese neighbor.
Since there is no RDA, I can only tell you that most sources specifiy the upper tolerable level at 20mg/per day (for an adult). And where can you find it? Nuts are probably the best source: Almonds 2.8mg, hazelnuts 2.77mg, walnuts 1.63mg, , cashews 1.15mg. Other good sources are raisins w/ 4.51mg and prunes, dates & beans with 1-1.5mg (all per 100g)
A word on "boron sufficiency": If we are honest with ourselves, we have no idea how much boron rodents let alone humans actually need to function properly. Yeah, there are a couple of studies showing that very low levels produce all sorts of nasty side effects. In humans there are claims of increased magnesium and calcium requirements, decreased bone density and a greater risk for prostate. On the toxicity side of things, on the other hand, you will find, nasty stuff like symptoms similar vitamin B6 and B2 deficiencies, skeletal abnormalities, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, anemia, dermatitis, ovarian / testicular abnormalities, edema, seizures, gastrointestinal disturbances, fatigue and cold-like symptoms.

Since boron is a naturally occurring trace mineral you will find it in all sorts of whole foods, ranging from nuts(almonds, walnuts) over avocados, broccoli and potatoes to pears, prunes, honey, oranges, onions, chick peas, carrots, beans, bananas, red grapes, red apples and raisins (please note, these are mostly unverified facts I briefly collected on several major Internet health portals).
The keto-heads out there will probably be happy to see the increase in betahydroxybutyric acid, one of the ketone bodies and a clear sign that the improved glucose metabolism in the borax group in particular was partly driven by an increased fatty acid oxidation or, as some people would have it, "fat adaptation" (please mind that this took place on the regular ultra-high carb very low fat chow). It should be mentioned though that these changes, just like the changes in leptin did not reach statistical significance (I marked all that did with an arrow in figure 1).

And what about the body composition did they become lean and ripped?

Figure 2: Even if this (corrected) data is accurate, it does not tell us anything about the body composition of the animals and this irrelevant for us, anyways (diverts from Kucukkurt. 2013).
As far as the body weight of the rodents is concerned, I am not sure what to make of the data, not just because there is no quantitative analysis of body fat vs. lean mass, but also due to the fact that the original graph in the study suggests that all groups lost weight in the course of the study. My gut feeling,however - and that would be in line with the what the scientists actually write in the result section, namely
"Body weight levels of rats were lower (p< 0.05) in the boric acid than in the control and borax groups at the 3rd and 4th weeks (Figure 1). In boric acid group, body weight of rats was decreased 12%at the end of experimental period." (Kucukkurt. 2013)
- tells me that the scientists accidentally reversed the weeks, when they tried to plot the data. My very own plot in figure 2 is therefore a (hopefully) corrected version of the original, which - you will have to agree on that - was in conflict with both common sense (all rodents losing weight?) and the afore cited statement that the boric acid group was the lightest at the end of the study. I mean reversing the graph would mean week 1 would be week 4 and that in turn would indicate that the body weight of all rodents would have been virtually identical at the end of the study period, which is obviously false... right?

High dose Boron damages sperm and testes and causes infertility: Just in case you are (even reading about the Armstrong study and the decrease in T3 in swine) still considering taking copious amounts of boron, or - in the even worse case - you still believe it will improve your T levels and thus help you build muscle, you may want to take a look at the latest rodent data from Egypt (El-Dakdoky. 2013). In their paper, which has just been published in Toxicology mechanisms and methods, the researcher report that a dose of 250mg/kg did in fact increase testosterone and even nitric oxide levels in male rodents. On the other hand, it did also lead to DNA fragmentation within the testes and decreased the rodents' chance of fathering healthy pubs. 500mg on the other hand lead to testicular atrophy, severe damage of spermatogenesis, spermiation failure and total infertility. I guess this should convince you to wait until we know where the margin between beneficial and detrimental lies in human beings, right?
So what? So let's assume some student assistants actually did the graphs for the study at hand and the rest of the study is correct, what do we make of these results now? Well, the first thing would be to make sure that we are not talking about additional 100mg/kg body weight of boric acid or borax, here. With an additional 100mg/kg chow, the rodents did consume 1538% more boron than their peers and a human equivalent of roughly roughly 1.62mg/kg. Now this calculation does not only assume that the rats in the boron group had normal appetite(the food intake was not given in the study text, so I just went by an average for adult rats), it also goes to show you that with ~100-160mg/day you would end up consuming WAY more than upper tolerable levels. Bottom line: Nothing even remotely consider taking as a supplement before we know more about the effects ...

I know you are just checking where you can get, so let me phrase it like this: Humans and swine are in many ways a better model for the human metabolism than rats and what Armstrong observed in a group of fifty weaning young pigs were reductions in serum T3, as well as increases in cholesterol and alkaline phosphatase (Armstrong. 2001). I hope that brings you back to reason and has you cancel any order you may just have placed. At least for so long until your favorite nutrition & exercise science site (I don't have to mention that this is the SuppVersity, right?) carries the next study on boron that will hopefully shed some more light on how much we need, how much of it is good for us and in which amounts it's getting toxic.

  • Armstrong TA, Spears JW, Lloyd KE. Inflammatory response, growth, and thyroid hormone concentrations are affected by long-term boron supplementation in gilts. J Anim Sci. 2001 Jun;79(6):1549-56. 
  • El-Dakdoky MH, Abd El-Wahab HM. Impact of boric acid exposure at different concentrations on testicular DNA and male rats fertility. Toxicol Mech Methods. 2013 Jan 10.
  • Ghanizadeh G, Babaei M, Naghii MR, Mofid M, Torkaman G, Hedayati M. The effect of supplementation of calcium, vitamin D, boron, and increased fluoride intake on bone mechanical properties and metabolic hormones in rat. Toxicol Ind Health. 2012 Jul 10.
  • Hakki SS, Dundar N, Kayis SA, Hakki EE, Hamurcu M, Kerimoglu U, Baspinar N, Basoglu A, Nielsen FH. Boron enhances strength and alters mineral composition of bone in rabbits fed a high energy diet. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2012 Aug 31.
  • Kucukkurt I, Akbel E, Karabag F, Ince S. The effects of dietary boron compounds in supplemented diet on hormonal activity and some biochemical parameters in rats. Toxicol Ind Health. 2013 Jan 4.